Rescuers Plan To Kidnap Rare Fish A remote pond in the largest old-growth forest in New England is home to one of just a dozen populations of blueback char in the United States. But the trout-like fish have been nearly wiped out by non-native fish illegally introduced to the pond. Now Maine biologists are mounting a rescue operation to capture the pond's few remaining bluebacks for safekeeping until they can remove the invasive smelt.
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Rescuers Plan To Kidnap Rare Fish

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Rescuers Plan To Kidnap Rare Fish

Rescuers Plan To Kidnap Rare Fish

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

A remote pond in Maine is home to one of just a dozen populations of blueback char in the United States. But as Murray Carpenter reports, the trout-like fish have been nearly wiped out by non-native fish illegally introduced to the pond.

MURRAY CARPENTER: The best way to get to Big Reed Pond is to drive two hours over unpaved logging roads to Bradford camps on Munsungan Lake, then hitch a ride in a float plane with Igor Sikorsky, who runs this sporting camp.

(Soundbite of engine starting)

CARPENTER: Today, he is carrying Frank Frost, a state fisheries biologist. Frost has a chest cooler and he is hoping to use it to airlift some of the pond's rare blueback char.

(Soundbite of engine revving)

CARPENTER: Big Reed Pond sits in the middle of the largest old growth forest in New England, a 5,000-acre reserve owned by the Nature Conservancy. Sikorsky has a lease on a few acres here with two cabins.

Mr. IGOR SIKORSKY: There's no cell phone coverage here, there's no communication with the outside world. There's gas lights and an outdoor fireplace and a very comfortable outhouse and a pond that's all to yourself, really.

CARPENTER: Sikorsky used to fly his guests over to fish for bluebacks. These fish are cousins of arctic char that have lived in a dozen Maine lakes since the glaciers receded.

(Soundbite of birds chirping)

CARPENTER: Frost says the bluebacks face a problem that is familiar nationwide.

Mr. FRANK FROST (Biologist): People moving fish from one place to another where they shouldn't be, they never have occurred, creates huge problems for us around the state.

CARPENTER: Rainbow smelt are little bait fish native to coastal Maine. They were likely dumped in the pond by anglers hoping to fatten up the native bluebacks and broOkay trout. Instead, the abundant little smelt are competing with native fish for food and even eating young bluebacks. Frost plans to use the fish poison Rotenone to kill the invaders this fall.

(Soundbite of engine starting)

CARPENTER: That's why Lana Perry and Jesse Kewster(ph) have been working at Big Reed for four weeks, trying to net any remaining bluebacks.

Ms. LANA PERRY: How long is that right there? This the 200-foot net?

(Soundbite of door closing)

CARPENTER: But in this set of the net, Perry catches only smelt. It seems most of the bluebacks have been caught after a few years of effort. That's a total of just eight fish, now at a northern Maine hatchery. It's a lot of work, but University of Maine Biology Professor Michael Kinnison says each of the remaining blueback populations is distinct and valuable. And he says these fish also face threats from a warming climate.

Professor MICHAEL KINNISON (Biology, University of Maine): You know, an arctic species living this far south is going to face some pretty tough challenges.

(Soundbite of birds chirping)

CARPENTER: Looking over the shore of Big Reed Pond, Frank Frost says the ecological problems caused by introduced fish can be easily avoided.

Mr. FROST: Just don't move the fish. It's as simple as that.

CARPENTER: If all goes well, the pond will be smelt-free when the eight airlifted bluebacks and their progenies spawned in the hatchery are flown back in next summer.

For NPR News, I'm Murray Carpenter.

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